Posts tagged: Ann Patchett

Monday, Monday

Hold on to yer Monday pants, people. You know which ones I mean.

Apparently procrastination is the perfectionists’ way of getting out of achieving perfection, because they’re afraid they’ll fail. Wait until the last minute, and they have an excuse for not being perfect. And yes, I did get paid for them to write a study about me. In Skittles, but hey.

I want to read this book.

Somehow I got on an email list that fires urgent updates at me about where/when Girl Scout cookies are being sold. Do you think they used my Target shopping habits to determine the likelihood that I’m a fat kid? The cheap side table and bath mat I bought at Target must have screamed Thin Mints.

I’m a little disappointed you guys didn’t let me in on the awesomeness that is Dropbox. Am I the only one who is light-years behind on this? This tool could have saved my office a fair amount of time over the last six months. I thought there was a reason I surrounded myself with nerds.

In case you missed it, Ann Patchett was on Stephen Colbert talking about independent bookstores and the evils of Amazon. I’d never watched an interview with her. Most times authors are pretty awkward on Colbert and can’t get any banter going. She was the complete opposite. My fan-girl writer crush grows.

Just found out this hotel in Chicago is supposedly haunted by a guy named Peg Leg Johnny. Knowing the four people I’m rooming with in Chi-town makes me confident we’ll be able to get at least 32 jokes out of Peg Leg Johnny references. Read more »

Good Times, Bad Times

Because it’s the holidays and there is too much to do. Too much to do equals less time and motivation for writing.

Because many of you are on a “break” in which you imagine you’ll accomplish much more work than you actually will.

Because you have, or will be, rejected from a place you’d really, really love to see your work in.

Because even if you need to take a break, a real one, at some point you’ll come back to the desk to find a blank page waiting, and even if you hate quotations with every fiber of your being, you can use your indignance/anger at someone else’s supposedly wise words about writing… to start writing.

The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything. John Irving


Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. Flannery O’ Connor


Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story. F. Scott Fitzgerald


 Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer, and if so, why? Bennett Cerf

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Missing the mark in memoir

Ah, the age-old question: Which came first, the egg, or the lovely white box the egg is placed in?

Over the past couple of years, in the process of earning my MFA, I’ve heard a couple of books mentioned over and over:  one is Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, and the other Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett.  A friend advised me, when I spoke of my interest in reading both, to read Grealy’s book first.  I took her advice and loved that book so much I immediately added it to my thesis list and studied it.  I was struck by the way Grealy used the writer-at-the-desk (that’s WAD.  It’s going to catch on.)  Her narrator was remarkably consistent at every stage and age, which is a remarkably difficult thing for a writer.  That was a couple of months ago, and this week I finished reading Truth & Beauty.  When I finished, and even throughout, I knew what I thought, but as always I wanted to hear what other people thought about it.  So I went in search of reviews of the book.  And I found plenty, but not the kind I was looking for.  I hoped for a discussion of the craft of memoir and how Patchett went about it, since she writes mostly fiction, and I hear it’s good fiction (I plan to read State of Wondersoon, which I think is her latest novel).  I wanted to know how Patchett approached writing a memoir differently than writing fiction, or if she found it much the same. I wanted to know what other people thought about the memoir and the writing.  Because it got plenty of attention, but again, not for the reasons I would have thought. 


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Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

One of my favorite places in my little town is the used bookstore, Brused Books (intentionally misspelled, which used to drive me mad but I now find it charming–if it were “Bruised” it wouldn’t have the word “used” in the name). Every once in a while, I wander in and browse the shelves, looking for nothing in particular, and leave with as many books as I can carry up the steep, mile-long hill that leads back to my apartment. Here, I’ve found quite a treasure trove of books I never would have known existed, which now populate my bookshelves. Most recently, in the cookbook section, I stumbled across Jenni Ferrari-Adler’s Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone.

The title appealed–I’m always interested in food writing and this was an angle I hadn’t seen before outside a few entirely utilitarian cookbooks. I liked the reassembled eggplant on the cover, and there’s something about deep purples that attracts me, though I wouldn’t name it as one of my favorite colors. It was like this book was marketed toward me. Of course, I’d never heard of Jenni Ferrari-Adler, but I had heard of Steve Almond, Dan Chaon, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, Marcella Hazan, Amanda Hesser, Haruki Murakami, and Ann Patchett–just a few of the book’s contributors. So, along with a cookbook by Dinah Shore that I most certainly didn’t need but couldn’t resist, the book went home with me.

You might think that the topic of cooking and eating alone would be a little one-note, that the essays would tend to agree with and repeat each other, especially since the contributors are all writers by trade, whether they specialize in fiction or nonfiction, whether or not food is a major focus of their work. It is true that a lot of the essays focus on the importance of valuing oneself enough to either prepare oneself a decent meal or go out in public and eat one alone–a few of the essays get a little self-helpy. Many discuss the secret pleasures of eating when no one is watching, and the strange food choices they make without anyone else to see. There’s a lot of fear associated with eating alone that surprised me. Laura Calder expresses disbelief in her essay, “The Lonely Palate,” that anyone could ever experience the amount of pleasure in eating alone that many of the other essays in the book espouse:

If eating alone were truly the juicy experience some describe, there would be restaurants in the red-light districts full of plate-sized tables in curtained-off booths. Travelers would rave about the thrills of eating on airplanes, that peculiar form of solo dining, miraculously planned for a crowd, where everyone faces front like a brigade and nibbles silently off the world’s only tables designed for one. On the other hand, since eating alone at least sometimes is a fact of life, I can understand wanting to make the best of it. And perhaps even exaggerating  how good it all was, after the fact: it sometimes takes that in life to convince ourselves we had fun.

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Three-Minute Fiction

Yesterday NPR posted rules for the fifth round of their Three-Minute Fiction contest. As in previous rounds, all stories must be 600 words or less and must incorporate a prompt (past prompts have included a list of words and a photo). This time, the judge is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham (The Hours, Specimen Days, the upcoming By Nightfall, and others), who also selected this round’s prompts. The story must open with, “Some people swore that the house was haunted.” The last line must be, “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” Entries are due September 26.

Anybody thinking about entering? Sounds fun to me. For inspiration, check out the story Ann Patchett chose as the winner of Round Four, Yoav Ben Yosef’s “Not Calling Attention to Ourselves.”

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